New law helps home bakers heat up sales
With South Florida’s farmer’s market season in full swing, get ready to see a mini-explosion of homemade pies and cookies, fruit preserves and muffins….
With South Florida’s farmer’s market season in full swing, get ready to see a mini-explosion of homemade pies and cookies, fruit preserves and muffins.
A new state law allows entrepreneurial cooks to make certain foods in their home kitchens to sell at farmer’s markets, roadside stands or directly to buyers. Called the cottage food law, it does away with the regulatory hoops associated with most start-up food businesses.
Cynthia Adams, of Hollywood, became a cottage cook when she lost her job doing food demos at Sam’s Club.
“I’m 52 years old and I wasn’t able to find work right off the bat,” she says.
Cynthia’s The Pie Lady was born.
Every weekend, Adams is in her booth at Hollywood’s Yellow Green Farmers Market, where she sells 50 different pies including her specialty — chocolate espresso.
“When I wasn’t working, I was trying to do something that could take my creativity to a paycheck,” she says. “I’ve been baking pies since I was old enough to stand at the kitchen counter.”
Unlike commercial producers, cottage cooks don’t need state permits and licenses unless a city or county specifically prohibits food production in uninspected facilities. The town of Davie, for instance, is likely to lift its law prohibiting home-based businesses.
Cottage food products must include an ingredient label, which includes allergen information, and these words of warning: “Made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to Florida’s food safety regulations.”
It’s buyer beware.
“The cottage food operators love this legislation,” says Dan Hixson, senior management analyst with the state’s division of food safety. “It allows people to test a product and find out whether they can go into business and sustain a business with very little start-up cost and very little overhead.”
While cottage food makers aren’t licensed or inspected, Hixson says the state will react to a formal complaint. He’s seen just one complaint, which he says was “unfounded.”
“So far so good,” he says. “I haven’t seen any issues. But judging by the number of phone calls, I would say there are several hundred folks out there across the state producing cottage food products.”
Four days each week, Isa Lunsford, of Lake Worth, is a partner in a West Palm Beach CPA firm. But on Fridays, she bakes for eight hours in her home kitchen as owner of Sweet Pick Me Ups Bakery.
“I love watching ‘Cupcake Wars’ on the Food Network and I’ve always been a baker,” she says. “I decided I wanted to try something on the side and I decided to take advantage of the cottage law. I realized there was a way to do it on a smaller scale.”
While Lunsford’s dream was to sell the cream puffs and cheesecakes from her Italian childhood, the law prohibits anything that needs refrigeration. “There are non dairy butters that taste pretty good. The law specifically excludes cream cheese, and cream cheese frosting is one of the best things you can put on a cupcake.”
Since she started selling her pound cakes, bundt cakes and mini-loaves Nov. 1 at the Wellington Green Market, Lunsford has had just under $1,000 in sales.
“The inquiries are probably three a week,” says Peter Robinson, managing director of the Wellington market and Lake Worth’s Farmer’s Market. “It’s incubated so many businesses and it’s allowing people to work out of their home in this economy. It’s generating extra revenue for families that need it, and it’s brought some excellent ethnic products to the market, like a sweet potato bundt cake.”
Staff writer Susannah Bryan contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him at Twitter.com @FloridaEats.